The public health response team of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus has issued a warning to countries to be prepared to deal with the associated side effects of quarantine measures to contain the spread of covid19.
The team said studies have shown that mass containment or mass quarantine measures for extended periods can result in post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, anger, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss and stigma.
It has recommended that the timing and repetition of these necessary measures should be carefully considered.
The researchers recommended that individuals in quarantine should be provided with access to meaningful activities such as free online services and support groups, and authorities ahould ensure the availability of basic supplies such as food, water, and medical supplies. These measures should lessen the side effects.
The experts analysed the strategies being used to suppress the virus, which include information, education and communication, in particular, continued sensitisation and communication with the public; no mass gatherings; social distancing in the general population; social distancing in people 70 and over; and community-wide quarantine as a pandemic containment strategy.
They concluded that while containment is necessary, clear timeframes were needed and legal frameworks necessary for implementation. They also agreed that communication was a critical tool in the fight, including social media.
The experts cautioned that the term “social distancing” does not seem to be well understood, and suggested it should be replaced with the phrase physical distancing.
The team also highlighted the need for behavioural change to contain the spread of covid19. They looked at providing non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to disrupt the transmission of the virus and reduce the severity of the impact on the healthcare system.
They said a range of NPIs would need to be quickly implemented for up to 75 per cent disruption of the disease. These interventions, they said, are based on behaviour change and generally have low compliance. However, they can be improved by strategies suited to the local social, economic and cultural context.
The recommendations for NPI strategies for covid19, most of which have already been implemented, are increased testing and surveillance; information, education and communication; limiting mass gatherings; community containment, and maintaining social distancing particularly for people over 70. There was also a special need for targeting of messages to young adults 18-42. They also noted that further considerations for effective NPI use are the existence of policy and legislative support, as well as the availability of outputs from active and passive surveillance systems to monitor and guide public health measures.
The researchers include clinical care specialists and medical researchers, from the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre and the Faculty of Medical Sciences, with additional assistance from a UWI military reservist.